I have worked in restaurants almost continually since I was sixteen years old.
I have a college degree.
I have a 140 IQ, even when blitzed out of my gourd.
One of these statements seemingly does not match up with the others yet they are all true. It took a while to figure out why I kept coming back to the biz despite the well-meaning ‘helpful advice’ of friends and family members who insisted on so many occasions that I get a Real Job. ‘Get a stable job like mine at the factory’ one associate said, whose factory later closed down. ‘Get a job with good benefits like my IT job’ said a family member whose job and benefits were later outsourced. ‘People like you and I are too good/smart/qualified/educated to work in a restaurant’ advised my friend who I got a a job for at the restaurant I was working at at the time.
Eventually I figured it out. It’s the people: the ones I’ve worked with and befriended over the years, the customers I’ve interacted with in one capacity or another, the brothers and sisters that I’ve adopted or who have adopted me. The way you speak with different people in a restaurant plays out like a surreal situation comedy. Hell, I’ve even met a couple of cool managers before. It happens.
The people that make and bring you your food when you go out to eat are truly a special breed. We work harder than immigrants and we party harder than rock stars. All while getting paid in some cases at an hourly rate of less than one third the minimum wage in the richest nation the world has ever known.
Some kind of human resources magical alchemy happens when you combine the youngest, brightest, most well-educated minds in the country (the restaurant industry is the number one employer of college students age 18 to 24) with ex-cons, drug fiends and hippies in a close-quartered, highly stressful environment. I would even say that the egalitarian nature of the job is one the better aspects of the business. Generally speaking a restaurant does not care what color you are, where you were born, what you like to do in your off time, who you like to do in your off time, your favorite color, anything. The only criterion for judgment is whether or not you can do the job assigned. If everything goes well and you are capable and competent you will be accepted by your peers. If everything goes wrong and you screw up a lot you might even get promoted.
Over the years I have attained a set of skills that will ensure that I will be employable no matter where I go. I found a way to parlay my personality into profit and I don’t even have to take my clothes off. I don’t have to at least.
There appears to be a negative stigma attached to working in the service industry, though. A lot of people seem to think that restaurant workers are greedy, stupid, mean-spirited people who lack drive, talent or worth. They treat us with disdain and contempt. Almost unanimously they will reply to any complaint made by a restaurant industry employee that they should just ‘Get a real job’. Then they’ll usually leave a crappy tip.
I firmly believe that working in a restaurant is a valid occupation and that those who do so are worthy of the dignity and respect accorded to those who work in other occupations. Maybe that is a silly idea, but what can I say? I’m a silly guy.
I love the restaurant business.
And I’m not ashamed to say it.
Dignity and Respect
Me, The JerBear